There are seriously better options to get your shooting fix.
As a boy, I cut my teeth on Doom. After that, the fun shooting with crass mannerisms of Duke Nukem 3D was alluring, if tawdry. A serious gap in my PC first-person shooter experience was Serious Sam, which is cut from the same cloth as those other classics. In this series, Sam “Serious” Stone takes a Terminator-like trip back in time to lead the resistance against an imposing alien force.
This collection comes with three separate titles—Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, Serious Sam HD: The Second Encounter, and Serious Sam 3: BFE. The first two are largely the same FPS experience, just in different locales. The camera is free roaming, the movement is zippy, and the shooting is decent, with weapons that feel distinct. Selecting weapons is done via a radial menu, which can be a bit cumbersome in more frantic moments. Levels vary from Egyptian catacombs to underground sewers and jungles. The “HD” in the first two titles is really stretching the meaning of the term. Character models are chunky like those on Nintendo 64, and textures in the background are flat, but I will admit they are at least clean looking—no fuzziness to be found.
While the core gameplay in the first two games is sound, it’s the choices around them that make them show their age. Inexplicably, the spawn points seem tied to picking up health or shield items. At first, I thought it was completely random, but it became more evident as I played. Enemies come in waves of dozens at a time in some spots, which can be overwhelming and borderline unmanageable unless you can find a bottleneck spot to run them through. While there are some unique enemies such as kamikaze bombers that scream as they run towards you, giant skeleton-like creatures, and alien beings, there are a handful that look like they’ve just copied Doom’s homework with a few minor alterations. Strangely enough, the larger creatures would get stuck on arches between rooms, inadvertently making them easy fodder.
Serious Sam 3: BFE is where the series jumps into what I’d consider the group of more modern shooters. Graphics are cleaner and more well defined, with dynamic lighting that provides gradients of shade that didn’t exist in the other ones. Dialogue, while excessively cheesy, fits in a narrative arc and series of events that feels more scripted. Enemy spawning feels more directed by moving through different sections of the level rather than the inexplicably chosen spawn points of its predecessors. One way it fails comparably is its framerate—tons of slowdown in the midst of action and unexplainable stuttering/hitching at moments where there’s nothing apparent that’d cause it. The menu settings have an option to choose between fidelity and stability, but changing it didn’t remedy the issue.
Across the entire spectrum of games, there are some nagging flaws that really mar the experience. It was nice of the development team to include online cooperative and versus modes, but there is no population to matchmake with whatsoever. A healthy number of online multiplayer options are present here, but there are occasional music cues that start in moments of great battles taking place, and it’s jarring how it just starts and stops abruptly without any natural phase in and phase out. The same sounds span the entire trilogy—Sam makes the same grunting noises when he jumps or melee attacks and the enemies make the same sound verbatim. Not re-recorded, not altered, literally the same audio. Finally, Sam’s dialogue is almost groan inducing. It’s like they tried to tone down Duke Nukem’s writing to a PG-13 rating, but it almost feels more try-hard than even that with how it’s “tough guy without the profanity.”
The Serious Sam Collection undeniably has a lot of content, but the purchase decision will hinge on what fondness you have for it. This is likely an easy buy for the devotees or those who hold nostalgia for it, but as a first timer the flaws inherent in game design, technical performance, and audio design make the experience for me death by a thousand cuts. The Switch has better classic shooters and many well-made homages to them; seek out those before you settle for this.